What Jordan Peterson Can Teach You About Writing

Derick David

Image: Foundation for Economic Education

If you want to learn how to think, you should learn how to write. — Jordan Peterson

When asked by his students at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, the infamous author of “12 Rules For Life”, said that the best thing he can teach to a person is to learn how to write.


Well, writing is a skill that you can use to succeed in anything.

The clinical psychologist says that becoming a better writer is a means for becoming a better thinker and being able to arrange your thoughts in a coherent fashion puts your thought process in order so you can better analyze it.

Having a well-ordered thought process translates into efficiently communicating your messages or ideas to other people.

That is a skill that 90% of the population don’t possess, since most of the problems of the world lie in communication, both from writing and speaking.

So you realize how important thinking and writing, right?

Jordan Peterson teaches the importance of writing and why writing is a crucial skill. He even wrote his own 25-page writing guide that includes tips on how to motivate yourself to write, how to properly edit an essay, when is the right time to take a break, and many more.

I put here all the valuable lessons about writing I learned from Jordan Peterson so you can apply them now to become a powerful writer so that you, yourself, can be an unstoppable force in your career.

Why writing is powerful

First, let’s talk about why writing per se is powerful and important. Peterson says that there is no difference between thinking and writing. And that your ability to think is based on your ability to write.

Do you want to think better? Write better. Writing makes you a better critical-thinker, clearer communicator, and decision-maker, and a person who can formulate and communicate the best arguments almost always wins the case.

For instance, if you want a job, you have to make a case for yourself. If you want a raise, you have to convince someone that you deserve the raise.

To be able to do these, you have to think better.

Mr. Peterson claims that thinking is important because it allows you to plan your actions for possible consequences, instead of taking unnecessary risks and acting recklessly. In other words, you think thoroughly.

Peterson adds that since you can write down more ideas than you can remember, writing gives you the capacity to review your thoughts, reject substandard ideas and strengthen the few great ones.

What I learned

Just like thinking, writing an essay allows you to plan and organize your thoughts to create a strong and coherent argument instead of intuitively saying the first thing that comes off your mind.

Writing isn’t just a skill you use to write essays in college. It’s a skill that you can use to climb the ladders of the world. There’s an old saying the goes,

The pen is mightier than the sword and by sharpening your ability to think and communicate your ideas through writing, you will become lethal.
This skill will become especially valuable as you climb the competence hierarchy because you will need to articulate complex ideas and defend your opinions.

In this statement alone, I learned how writing can be the basis of your destiny in life. So, you have to pay attention when you write, what you write, and how you write. Why? Because you literally write your future.

Here are practical ways you can use now to be a better and powerful writer, according to Jordan Peterson.

Get a good night sleep before you write

Peterson highly recommends getting a good night’s sleep the day before, then waking up early in the morning and eating a healthy breakfast with some protein and fat to get your energy up and high.

Believe it or now, he says that coffee actually doesn’t help with your writing. As a matter of fact, getting a high protein and fat breakfast helps more than a caffeinated drink. Surprising right?

I’m writing this as I drink my coffee and this guy says it’s counterproductive. I guess whatever flies your kite, professor.

Then, Peterson recommends focusing to write for 15 minutes first, without being distracted. After a short while, you’ll find your mind slowly settling down and you will then concentrate on the task at hand.

What I learned

Quality over quantity. 1 hour of focused writing is better than 5 hours of scattered work. Focus on writing sentence by sentence, word by word, thought by thought.

He also mentions that consistency plays a wholesome part in becoming a powerful writer. He says that the most effective writers write every day, at least a bit. Write as if every word matters.

Understand the fundamentals of writing.

“Rules are there for a reason. You are only allowed to break them if you are a master.
If you’re not a master, don’t confuse your ignorance with creativity or style.

Peterson loves breaking rules, not only in writing. But does he do that with such ease? Well, he first has to understand the rules themselves.

In writing, as a general rule, a paragraph in an essay should be made up of at least 10 sentences or 100 words. And each paragraph you write should present one idea and if you can’t think up 100 words to say about your idea, you may need to rethink it.

On the other hand, if your paragraph is 300+ words, you may need to trim it or break it up into multiple ideas.

Here are other fundamental rules to take note of:

  • Be specific and careful with the words you choose
  • Craft your sentences so that the right words are in the right place
  • Think of other ways to write a sentence (at least 5)
  • Properly arrange your sentences inside the paragraph.
  • Put the paragraphs in order a logical flow from the beginning of the essay to the end, making sure it flows well when you read it

A brilliant insight I learned

Jordan Peterson says that writers should at most cases,

Strive for brevity, which is concise and efficient expression, as well as beauty.

As your ability to be a strong communicator and writer is based upon how concise, efficient, and clear your messaging is. Just think of keynote presentations, business meetings, or pitching an idea.

It all boils down to how can you communicate what you’re saying in a concise manner. If you are bored while writing your essay, something is wrong already. Maybe it’s too long or wordy or you don’t find it interesting. You should maybe rethink it and find other ways to approach it.

Find a topic that you’re curious about and that tames your mind.

Have an outline from the beginning

Peterson calls the outline the most difficult part of writing an essay because it requires the writer to flesh out their argument.

He suggests that a thousand-word essay should have about a ten-sentence outline. Any outline could shift and transform as you research and write the essay, so being able to constantly reference the skeleton you create is the surest path to success.

Once the outline is finished, you simply have to answer each question and provide examples that support your argument. For your first draft, it should be about 25% longer than the required length. This will allow you to trim the excess text and strengthen your essay.

Having an outline is not optional, meaning you need to have a structure in mind or better, in writing to succeed. This is new to me since I never really put importance on making a structure or an outline before diving deep into writing. This is the game-changer for me so far.

Fall in love with the process of editing

When it comes to editing your work, Peterson encourages separating each sentence from the first paragraph and writing a second version of each sentence under it.

Repeat this for the next paragraph and so on till every paragraph has been rewritten. It is also helpful to read the sentence aloud and listen to how it sounds. If it sounds awkward, see if you can say it in a different, better manner.

Aim to eliminate all unnecessary words in your essay, this should cut the length of your sentences by 15–25%.

Additionally, be precise or specific with your words and use words you understand well and that other person might understand well.

Don’t use fancy jargon that is beyond your level of comprehension.

Once you’ve finished editing your draft, try to write a new outline of 10–15 sentences. Make sure you don’t look back at your essay while doing this.

By forcing yourself to reconstruct your argument from memory, you will likely improve it since you’ll remember most of what is important and forget the less important details.

In a sense, your memory will act as a filter and preserve useful information.

At this point, keep repeating the process of rewriting and re-ordering your work, or if you feel you’re ready to move on, wait a few days so that can you look at your work with fresh eyes for one final editing session.

I’d like to quote Jordan Peterson one more time as this person has a handful of brilliant ones that can leave you speechless. This one for instance.

“If you write a number of essays using this process, you will find that your thinking will become richer and clearer, and so will your conversation.
There is nothing more vital to becoming educated, and there is nothing more vital than education to your future, and the future of those around you.

Writing your thoughts is like decluttering your room.

You write to organize your thoughts in order and you declutter to organize your things in your room.

Both of these make you a clear thinker.
Both of these can improve your emotional and mental state.

It’s your turn to take action now.

Takeaways for you

  • Writing is a skill that will increase your chances of becoming successful because it allows you to think about ideas and organize your thoughts in order
  • Aim to learn the fundamentals or rules of writing before you decide to break them.
  • Reading is as important as writing. When reading, write down notes of what you just read, but in your own words.
  • Edit your work sentence by sentence, cut out unnecessary words, and read it aloud to make sure your writing is clear and easy to understand.
  • Creating an outline is your surest path to success. This is not optional.
  • Repeat the editing process multiple times, take a couple of days off before doing the final edit so that you read what you wrote out of context

Relevant sources:

  1. https://alexandbooks.com/archive/writing-tips-from-dr-jordan-b-peterson

2. https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/jordan-petersons-ten-step-process-for-stronger-writing?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

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